English Knights, French Books, and Literary Communities

  • Kenneth Hodges
Part of the Studies in Arthurian and Courtly Cultures book series (SACC)


In the epilogue of his translation of Ramon Lull’s Ordre of Chyualry (printed 1484), William Caxton bemoans the contemporary decline of chivalry. His first prescription for solving the problem—even before such obvious solutions as holding more tournaments—was to have knights read, and his first choice of what knights should read was books about King Arthur:

O ye knyghtes of Englond where is the custome and vsage of noble chyualry that was vsed in tho dayes / … rede the noble volumes of saynt graal of lancelot / of galaad / of Trystram / of perse forest / of percyual / of gawayn / & many mo.1


English History Stylize Love True Love English Community English Tradition 
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    The reason Malory gives for the people holding with Mordred against Arthur is “that with kynge Arthur was never other lyff but warre and stryff ” (1229; XXI.1), which does indeed resemble contemporary English discontent with Edward IV as reported by John Warkworth: when the chronicler muses on the fact that the people who were originally glad to change Henry VI for Edward IV were also glad to see Henry replace Edward once again, he says it is because “whenne Kynge Edward iiijth regnede, the peple looked after alle the foreside prosperytes and peece, but it came not; but one batayle aftere another.” This is not to suggest Malory the narrator is revealing a political bias, but rather that an audience could indeed be expected to see a similarity with Mordred’s rebellion, and since both Yorkists and Lancastrians had suffered uprisings, one could craft the moral as one liked. See Warkworth, A Chronicle of the First Thirteen Years of the Reign of King Edward the Fourth, ed. James Halliwell (London: Camden Society, 1839; rpt. Llanerch Enterprises, 1990), p. 12.Google Scholar
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© Kenneth Hodges 2005

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  • Kenneth Hodges

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